Southeast Green - Business depends on the environment and the environment depends on business

FoodShed Planet

eclectic food for thought by "Sustainable Pattie" Baker
  1. Why John Rides
    My friend John Brown met me in Atlanta's Piedmont Park recently. After a leisurely loop around the lake, we sat under a tree and talked about the 200 miles he's going to ride in a single weekend in May (yet again) to raise money for HIV vaccine research. He told me about the scientists at the Emory Vaccine Center (with whom he has met) who are working tirelessly to find a cure for HIV/AIDS, and how 100% of the money raised by this annual cycling event is donated to their work. We talked about the diversity of people who participate in this ride, and some of the stories he shared with me moved me to cheers and tears.

    John Brown is the person who first rode bikes with me on the Atlanta BeltLine, and with whom I ride around Atlanta casually every month or so (including to see the AIDS Memorial Quilt when it was at Emory University). He also ran David's Helping Feed Atlanta route with me when David was recovering from surgery a few years ago, and he came with me many times I went to cover the Ashview Community Garden saga. He's a good guy and he cares about things. 


    I worked with him at Turner Broadcasting more than 20 years ago, right after he came home from serving the United States in the first Gulf War during the USA's "don't ask, don't tell" days. He didn't ask. He didn't tell. And now, he doesn't ride to raise money for this cause because he's gay, although that's one reason. He also rides for these reasons:


    Why I Ride  
    I ride to keep myself healthy, sane and fit; 
    I ride because I'm competitive; 
    I ride to challenge myself; 
    I ride to remember what a beautiful city and state I live in; 
    I ride because bikes really can save the world; 
    I ride for comradery; 
    I ride because I was asked to;
    I ride because I appreciate and am amazed by what an organization of like-minded, selfless people can achieve; 
    I ride to honor those that never had a chance in the face of an awful disease; 
    I ride to remove stigma; 
    I ride because the depth and quality of human compassion move me to; 
    and I ride so that someone, somewhere, might make wise choices or have a chance that millions before did not.

    --written by John Brown, May 18, 2014, during a particularly barren stretch of road in the middle of rural Georgia

    I ride between 20-50 miles a week. I can't (yet) imagine riding 100 miles a day/200 miles in one weekend. And yet, John does this year in and year out. (This is John's 8th year participating in this ride, and he serves as co-leader of the ride this year.) Please consider supporting life-saving science through John's efforts. You can donate on John's AIDS Vaccine 200 page here.
    ____
    The mission of Action Cycling Atlanta (ACA) is to raise awareness and funding for HIV/AIDS vaccine research that will one day eradicate the disease. To achieve this mission, ACA produces the AIDS Vaccine 200 (see AV200 website); a cycling event designed to challenge individuals and teams; while inspiring our community to work towards a world where HIV/AIDS is part of the human history and not part of its future. Using friendship, respect and sportsmanship, the AV200 creates a spirit of hope that shows what can be accomplished when we strive for a common purpose and support each other in doing so.
    ACA  is an all volunteer run organization that donates 100% of all money raised by participants to its beneficiaries.  Since 2003, ACA has raised more than $2 million for AIDS vaccine research at the Emory Vaccine Center and other Atlanta-area AIDS service organizations.






    learning as I grow (by Pattie Baker)
  2. Free Gift with Purchase!
    Happy Earth Day! If you live in metro Atlanta, you can get joy-based stories, tips, and recipes (and other food-for-thought) that help you and your family be more resilient in our changing world (now more relevant than ever) in my book, Food for My Daughters. It's available for the special price of just $10 at Lemonade Days in Dunwoody, Georgia's Brook Run Park, plus you get a free gift with purchase (a pot of organic mint from my garden) while supplies last. (Here's how to make candied mint, which I like to put on top of brownies.). It will be at the Local Authors table along with books by 18 others, so check them all out. FYI, the final story in my book tells why I helped start the community garden in that same park, so you may want to swing by and visit that while you are there!  

    Not local? No problem! Food for My Daughters, and another memoir of mine named Bucket List, are available on Amazon in all global markets. Here are links for your convenience. Thank you for your support. I am an indie author and it is greatly appreciated. As always, a percentage of proceeds from the sale of Food for My Daughters is donated to help provide healthy food to those in need.



    learning as I grow (by Pattie Baker)
  3. Update on Bike Access (Roads/Payment) Re: Atlanta's Bikeshare
    Stephen Spring leading Relay Bikeshare class
    Atlanta's almost-one-year-old bikeshare system, Relay Bikeshare, just announced it is expanding its fleet from 100 to 500 bikes. I had two issues that led me to not be able to recommend Relay Bikeshare after road-testing it for a month last summer. These were road safety and equity. You can read my previous posts about both of these issues beneath my updates below, as well as a very detailed response from Atlanta's Chief Bicycling Officer about the equity issue. 

    Update on Bike Access on Roads: First of all, bike riders have legal access to almost all roads, so road access is not the issue as much as road design and the presence of proven best practices that make roads safer for all. Things are continually getting better out there with bike infrastructure in the City of Atlanta. Additionally, the best, most proactive move made in the last year regarding roads that do not provide safe bike access has been the excellent bikeshare classes offered in a partnership of the City of Atlanta, Relay Bikeshare and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. The teacher, Stephen Spring, is outstanding. As a result of taking his class after also taking a nine-hour Smart Cycling class and earning my certification as a League of American Bicyclists' cycling instructor, I would say there are four important things you can do to minimize the potential for what happened to me on Peachtree Street just hours before the first bike share user in the USA was killed in Chicago (see my post about that below):

    (1) Take Stephen's class. If you live elsewhere in the USA or world, see if bikeshare or other free bike skills classes are offered. The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition also offers a free Urban Confidence class (also taught by Stephen -- the guy is a rock star).

    (2) Choose a route that has bike access (most of Peachtree Road does not, although I still use it often because it's flat, direct, and I do what I suggest in the next suggestion).

    (3) Take the lane. If the lane in which you are traveling is too narrow for a motor vehicle to pass you legally (which means with at least 3 feet of clearance here in the State of Georgia, and many other states), then do not hesitate to take the lane (which means ride in the middle). On a street with two lanes going in the same direction (like Peachtree Street), this means that you pretty much simply turn the right lane into your bike lane, and drivers will pass you in the left lane. It actually works, although it will not protect you from distracted or impaired drivers so do continue to use extreme caution. (In much-more-dangerous suburbia, I use Bike Noodle because of the level of driver aggression and lack of safe access.)

    (4) Advocate, advocate, advocate. Join your local bike advocacy group. Show up. Speak up. Help out. 

    Update on Bike Access Re: Payment:

    Bravo to Relay Bikeshare for reducing their "pay as you go" rate to something far more reasonable. However, it's still inaccessible to those without a credit card. Throughout the past year, Relay Bikeshare told me they would not offer a "cash option" for those who do not have a credit card until they had a sponsor (even though at a bikeshare roundtable the day before the launch they stressed how equity was built into their model from day one). I met many people in this situation when I was a Relay Bikeshare member during its first month after launching last June who asked me if they would be able to rent the bikes as well. I ended my membership after one month because I was increasingly uncomfortable having conversations with people I met while riding the bikeshare bikes whose faces dropped when they learned this was not a program in which they could participate. (For instance, see People Like MiltonWhat to Tell Frank, and Cliff and Taz.)

    Relay Bikeshare signed on a sponsor back around Christmas. They then told me they needed an equity manager, for whom they advertised in the past few months (they had already hired bikeshare champions who have been educating throughout the city about the benefits of bikeshare, plus they relied on community input for new bikeshare locations and are committed to making them geographically diverse). I am looking forward to an announcement in the near future that they will finally be able to provide a cash option for those for whom it is the only option to gain bike access.

    Bottom Line: I WOULD recommend Relay Bikeshare now, but with the 4 points listed above, and the stipulation that the cash option be offered by the day the additional stations open.

    Here are my previous posts about Relay Bikeshare:

    Forty Five Pounds of Happy (posted June 11, 2016)

    It's like riding forty five pounds of happy to parts of downtown Atlanta that, frankly, could use a little pick-me-up. Everyone smiled as I went by, the lone pretty blue bike on the road just after morning rush hour on the bikeshare service's second day of operation here. So many people wanted to talk -- people like Milton and Frank and Cliff and Taz. I had so many good experiences as I rode from station-to-station that I could only think one thing: More of this, please. More happy. However, make it accessible to those without a credit card, too, please. They are watching, and they want (and need) to be involved.

    Coming Soon? (posted June 23, 2016)

    Little boys waiting with a crowd for a food pantry to open were playing around the happy-looking new bikeshare bikes locked in the station. As I unlocked a bike for my membership-allotted daily free hour (with them watching and asking about everything I did), my heart sank, as it has been doing more and more during these two weeks since the new bikeshare system launched, when I saw the father walking over to me. I knew I was about to get into a conversation (as has been happening every time I ride one of the bikes) with yet another person for whom access to a bike could change lives. I knew he would ask about a cash option (not for the kids, but for him). I knew that it had been promised, and that equity was supposedly marching order #1 in this city with this new program, but two weeks in and it still doesn't exist as an option. I knew his face would drop when I told him it was "coming soon," which is code for "you're not a priority." I also knew for sure that writing a book about a city facing the pain and pride of change (as I did last year) did not mean I was done with these issues, but, rather, just beginning.

    Why I Can't Recommend Atlanta's New Bikeshare Just Yet (posted July 2, 2016)

    On June 9, Atlanta launched its bikeshare program with 10 stations and 40 bikes. I signed up as one of the first members. In the past four weeks, I have ridden it 11 times for 8 hours and 36 minutes over a total of 31.45 miles. The handy stats provided to me online also indicate that I've saved $18, burned 1,258 calories, and reduced carbon by 27 pounds. What's more, I talked to dozens of people and took hundreds of photos. But none of that matters. 

    The only thing that matters is the photo on the top of this post. It is of the car that almost hit me yesterday while I was riding Relay Bikeshare from the High Museum of Art to Georgia Tech's Technology Square to spend money at a lunch spot I wouldn't have gone to otherwise (14 minutes/1.5 miles away, or so my trip details tell me). The driver passed me aggressively and so close that I felt the car whack my foot. I kept my balance, calmed my heart, dragged my bike onto the sidewalk, caught up with the car at the next red light, and took this photo of the license plate. 

    Unbeknownst to me at the time, just three hours earlier a woman* in Chicago just a few years older than my older daughter became the very first bikeshare death in the USA.

    And so everything I was going to tell you I like about Relay Bikeshare I'm not going to say. In fact, I had written a 1,300-word article for the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition's blog (where I have published three previous articles about all the good things happening in Atlanta regarding bike-friendliness**) and it was ready to go but I asked to pull it yesterday, mainly because of the equity issue (there is no cash option available, as was promised at launch time -- see here) but now also because of this. Because Relay Bikeshare is simply not safe as it requires riders to rely on motor vehicle drivers for their lives on many Atlanta roads (including the iconic Peachtree Street -- click here to voice your support for bike lanes there). I cannot in good conscience recommend it for my daughters, so I cannot therefore recommend it for you.

    I've been a huge bikeshare fan. I've road-tested them in five cities now. But I am now cruelly and undeniably reminded how we can't take safety for granted, and that every one of our cities is one bike rider away from a ghost bike. Any city leaders across the USA who are not making their city's roads safe for all right now will one day have the blood of dead citizens on their hands.


    The woman who was killed riding the bikeshare bike in Chicago yesterday was named Virginia Murray. She was 25. She worked at Blue Cross Blue Shield as a communications consultant. When I was 25 I worked at MetLife in NYC . . . as a communications consultant.  I got my first tax return from that job two years earlier, with which I bought . . . a bike.

    ** I continue to consider City of Atlanta increasingly safe for bike riders (significantly safer than the suburb city where I live). My usual routes in the City of Atlanta are completely separated from motor vehicles. The only reason I was riding this route was because a bikeshare hub is located on it. I believe if you put a bikeshare station or hub on a street, you are implying its safety. That's why I do not recommend using Relay Bikeshare bikes until they are located on streets that are safe for all, and until all have access (not just in location but in logistics) to using them.

    UPDATE (posted July 6, 2016)
    I received this response from The City of Atlanta's Chief Bicycling Officer, Becky Katz, regarding the "cash option" issue on July 2, 2016.  She gives a detailed overview of the bigger issue of equity in bikeshare and how Relay Bikeshare is doing lots of good stuff, plus a target date for the cash option to be active and an actionable step you can take when people ask about a cash option while you are riding Relay Bikeshare (which they did almost every time I rode).

    Pattie,

    Thank you for your interest and passion about equity and bike share. Equity and bike share is a complex challenge that many cities and bike share systems are working toward understanding and addressing. There are many barriers to bike share for low-wealth and minority communities. Atlanta city leaders, Cyclehop and other partners have attended workshops, the Better Bike Share Partnership conference, and hosted meetings with NACTO and Philadelphia’s bike share team. We did our research and have prioritized specific equity strategies that are large barriers across the country.

    The biggest barrier in all systems in station access. The City of Atlanta and Cyclehop launched in downtown Atlanta for various reasons, but one of the major decision making factors was equity. Downtown Atlanta has a large, diverse workforce, a wealth of supportive and low income housing and has good transit connectivity. We could have easily launched in Midtown and on the Eastside Trail and we are so excited to grow into those areas, but we wanted to ensure that access from day one was available to all types of bike share users. We don’t know of any other system that launched in equity target area.

    Education and perception are barriers- Cyclehop and the City of Atlanta has and continues to have meetings directly with communities, community non-profits, small business owners, etc to provide resources, free riding time and education about the bike share system.

    Deposits- some systems put a hold on credit cards while you ride the bikes for over $300- this puts many people into a difficult situation financially. Cyclehop does not put a hold on peoples cards.

    Cyclehop has been a leader also in their hiring practices. There are so many lens of equity- and we are not ignoring that Cyclehop,  while not a huge company, does provide full time jobs and benefits to its employees. The general manager is a veteran and very involved in his own neighborhood (and thus understands neighborhood communication), the full time bike mechanic  is an amazing woman who was trained at SOPO, a local bicycle cooperation and lives in Vine City area (a lower wealth community that will get bike share stations by year end), the part bike mechanic wife is about to have a baby and specifically wanted this job to be involved in community work. Cyclehop also chose to have their headquarters in the West End due to transit connectivity and to better engage residents in the surrounding area which represents a strong, vibrant black community.

    Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, Cyclehop, WeCycle, Urban Perform, Red, Bike and Green joined together to wrote  a bike share equity grant to hire ten westside community residents to become bike share ambassadors/champions. We received this grant a few months ago and will be advertising for paid professional development training and outreach roles in the next month. This will help our team not only hire local residents, but break down the perception barrier. The grant also supports the partner organizations who work directly in the communities we are trying to engage.

    But back to cash payments- Philadelphia is the leading system that offers cash payments. Over the course of year they had 400 payments paid in cash (does not mean 400 people, but they guess it’s about 300-350 people who have used the option). They use a system called Pay Near Me which works with Family Dollars and 7/11s. When I took my position and Cyclehop’s GM was hired ( only 6 months ago), we were pursuing this option. But quickly realized that since we do not have 7/11s in the area, that PayNearMe was not going to be a great option. Since then we have been working with Social Bicycles (the bike share technology company) to figure out a different system- but the back end system is challenging and we are trying to establish a new relationship with Western Union. Cyclehop right now also has not opened their official headquarters because we are only at 100 bikes. Cyclehop can take cash payment in person, but without a location or a dedicated staff person they don’t have the capacity. In Philadelphia, through a very  generous equity grant, the bike share company hired a full time cash payment staff member. We do not have the ability to do this right now.

    Our current plan is to be able to offer cash payments by the end of the year, which is when the full launch is timed both in person and through Western Union (which you now can use to pay your water bill).

    If you do meet someone who would like to pay in cash, I would love to connect with them and keep them updated on our progress to ensure that all people can use the system.

    Please let me know if you have any other questions.
    Becky

    Becky Katz
    Chief Bicycle Officer
    Office of Planning | Department of Planning and Community Development
    Office - 404-330-6722 | Cell – 404-430-3928

    Posted  by 
    learning as I grow (by Pattie Baker)
  4. Our Student
    I am standing on the corner of Trinity and Electric Avenues in Decatur, Georgia, holding my bike helmet, waiting for our one Silver Spokes seniors-on-trikes student today to arrive. I see a dapper man in dress pants and shined shoes, a goldenrod yellow blazer, and a hat not unlike the ones that Gay Talese wears. In fact, he looks like Gay Talese, and is perhaps even the exact same octogenarian age. He crosses the street and I call his name. He is, indeed, our student.

    He tells me he has lost his driver’s license because of the loss of his peripheral vision, and he wants to purchase a tricycle so he can ride it to the supermarket. However, this would require him to ride up a hill by his home and he doesn’t know if he can do it. He points up the road to a hill and says, “So, today, I want to go up that hill.” This is his singular goal. 

    I hear the determination in his voice and I think, Okay, then. This elderly man will go up that hill on a tricycle today. This is now our shared goal.

    My co-teacher arrives on bike and I brief him on this conversation. We take out the three bright red trikes and start to go through our routine of proper helmet fit, ABC Quick Check (air pressure, brakes, chain/cassette, quick release, general bike check), tips about the trikes, and a short overview of what we’ll be doing in our class today -- some bike handling skills, some hazard avoidance maneuvers, some rules of the road. I can’t do the ABC Quick Check anymore without thinking about the poem I wrote right before the presidential inauguration:

    ABC Quick Check

    Air. I need air. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe;
    Put the brakes on this runaway world;
    Don’t you see?
    Whirled. Girl. I’m a woman in chains;
    Break these chains that remain
    To contain me.
    Quick. Release. I am vulnerable. Exposed;
    Raise my seat so I can see
    What I oppose.

    Our student is hardly listening to us, however. We realize pretty quickly that his head is already far beyond this class and he has a plethora of practical questions that assume he’s already riding his own trike on his way to get milk and mayonnaise, bread and butter. How many lights should I put on my trike? Are electric trikes available? Can I fold it and carry it on MARTA? Where do I get a camera for my helmet so I can show my grandchildren where I am going? Do the police hassle you if you ride on the sidewalk? We answer as many questions as we can, as succinctly as we can so that we can conduct the class and reach his goal, but the thought of this man on a trike on the streets in this city that’s not yet safe for all makes me realize, yet again, how life-changing, and life-threatening, a bike of any type can be.

    My co-teacher takes the front and I ride sweep, with our student in the middle for most of the class. This means watching for technical or physical problems he may be having, jutting out a bit more when we need to take the lane to ensure that no motor vehicle driver attempts to pass, and simply being last so that  the student doesn’t have to bear that psychological burden. I love riding sweep, and I’ve done it at a family-friendly ride in my non-family-friendly-for-bike-riders city as well. 

    Our student is communicative about his needs and we discover that he is deaf in one ear. This means we have to make sure we are on the right or facing him when we give directions during our scanning and signaling lessons in the concrete plaza. 

    We learn that even though he is old and has even had a small stroke, he has a terrifically strong grip with both hands on the brakes and expertly demonstrates the quick stop as I pretend to be a car and zoom into his path. My co-teacher takes him up a small practice hill so he can start to get the hang of shifting gears and so we can ascertain his overall strength, and he does great. He then masters conscientious and careful turns around the parking lot and we move on to his desired hilly road. As the three of us on bright red trikes are taking the lane, a motor vehicle approaches from behind us. I signal for the car to slow or stay back and the driver, an older man himself, patiently waits. I almost want to kiss him in appreciation.

    We crest the hill, and the feeling of satisfaction is palpable. We have done it. 

    When a class is going well, it’s tempting to keep going, to add more to it, and we almost do this but riding in the back and watching his movements I sense that our student is starting to hit his limit and I suggest we go back to the building now. We practice a couple more things on the way, and then my co-teacher heads off to find the person we need to unlock the door. The student gets off the trike for the first time in over an hour and I see him wobble. I grab his arm just as he is perhaps about to fall. We sit on the bench and chat while I try to ascertain whether or not he has returned to equilibrium. The director of this recreation center comes and asks him if he wants the non-emergency services unit to check his vital signs. He declines this, and eventually sets off on his walk to the library and beyond after saying he’ll be back next week, asking if he can rent the trike in between, and being a bit disappointed to hear this is not an option. Overall, he seems pleased with himself, as are we.

    And yet . . .  

    It nags at me, the master transportation plans that will take five and ten and twenty years to make it safe for an 80-something-year-old man who doesn’t have that time to wait to get to the supermarket on a trike. 

    I see a news update shortly thereafter that the Georgia Department of Transportation just announced that it will take  only ten weeks to fix the highway that collapsed last week, so the 240,000 motor vehicle drivers a day who usually pass that way won’t have to wait long.

    Ten weeks. Millions of dollars. Done.

    Yet this man will most likely never be able to get to Publix on a trike. You know it, and I know it. (Although, I guess, who knows, right? He's very committed.) The reality is that thousands of Americans turn 65 each and every day right now in our country, and this surge in seniors in our society will continue for years. We could rebuild our roads -- not just our fallen highways -- much quicker than is currently planned in order to make them accessible for all if we either collectively agree to make that a priority or have informed leadership that sees the economic, social, and environmental benefits of doing so. The question becomes what do we actually, truly, want to do as a society? And for me, more personally, what more can I do to help?
    learning as I grow (by Pattie Baker)
  5. Art of Women in Public


    To close out International Anti-Street Harassment Week, I offer you this 30-second celebration of women's complexity, strength, and freedom as captured by street artists (and which I discovered one by one while traveling at the speed of bike) in my little tribute to women everywhere. 

    I leave you with this final reminder: Leave women alone in public, please. We are just trying to get places without getting killed or harassed. There shouldn't be such an art to that basic right of all people in a free society.

    If interested, see my published books on Amazon, available in all global markets. Here is the USA link.


    learning as I grow (by Pattie Baker)
  6. Chapter 3: Pedaling as Fast as I Can
    I am pedaling as fast as I can. I am riding Mulie, however, and he has a limit to how fast he can go because only some of his gears work. Plus, he’s a bike, not a motor vehicle, and I am never going to go fast enough for the truck behind me on this two-lane road that I can’t avoid on my way home in suburbia, where I am spending far too much time this summer. And I am going uphill. This doesn’t help. It is the final half-mile and I have no other options than this. I am out of breath and nervous as I know the sound of impatience and the driver in the truck behind me has it. He is revving, revving, revving. I know he is going to do the zoom-around-me thing the first chance he gets and I try to brace for it.

    Sure as morning comes after night, the guy guns it the first chance he gets. Yet he doesn’t pull far enough out to pass me either legally or safely. In fact, he hits my foot. Buzzes it, I guess you’d call it. It knocks me off balance but I manage to remain upright. The truck is long, however, and I am squeezed between it and the side of the road. I know I can slip under those tires at any second. I know I can die. 

    Every bike rider out there knows he or she can die each and every time they ride. We carry identification in case we are tossed over a windshield or crushed under tires. We all know -- or know of -- someone to whom this has happened. Cities across the USA are littered with ghost bikes that serve as memorials of bike riders killed by motor vehicles. Many of us carry a little booklet that lists the state laws about bike riding so we show police officers who may come to the scene of a non-fatal crash and may not know there is a 3-feet-to-pass law or that, yes, we can take the lane or ride two abreast legally. 

    I am pedaling as fast as I can. The light has just turned green and I am in the left lane because I am making a left. I am on the way to the bank to deposit a check in my college daughter’s account. The woman in the red convertible behind me, however, will have none of it. She had honked at me incessantly while waiting for the light to change, and when I turned around and told her I was making a left, she gave me the finger. I anticipate that she will try to whip around me, and sure enough, she does, practically snipping Attica’s front tire on the way.

    I am pedaling as fast as I can. I am coming home from the supermarket a half mile from my home with Mulie’s panniers filled with sweet potatoes and lettuce and those chocolate chips I eat way too often. I have bungee-corded the bag of apples to the back rack as securely as possible so they don’t tumble all over the road. There is a long line of cars and I want to ride up onto the sidewalk, even though it’s illegal, but there is a family pushing a stroller and walking a dog and I don’t want to get in their way. The road is too narrow for drivers to pass me safely so I take the lane and inch along with the cars. I eventually fall farther and farther behind the car in front of me and the guy behind me yells out his window for this 52-year-old mom with groceries on a bike with a blue bell to get off the road. 

    I come home in tears many times when I try to ride my bike in my self-proclaimed family-friendly suburb-city 16 miles from downtown Atlanta. It’s not built on a grid like Mineola and the neighborhoods outside the commercial districts are mostly disconnected subdivisions so there is no way to avoid the main roads to get to a school or a supermarket, the pool or post office, the mall or City Hall. Besides, the main roads are the flattest -- the one that leads to my neighborhood is on a ridge that was an old Cherokee trail. Turning left or right off this ridge tumbles you down into neighborhoods with calf-busting hills not for the faint of heart. To ride bikes in this “family-friendly” place (where less than one percent of students ride their bikes to school, where now 50% of residents live in apartments and some huge percentage of households don’t even have kids, and where the largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the southeastern United States call home), requires these main roads to be made safer for all. The city is working on it, but it will take five or ten or twenty years and for whatever reason it seems to involve a fight every step of the way.  

    I am pedaling as fast as I can. I average about 50 miles of errands each week as one less car, if you include the almost-daily ride to the community garden. That’s one less car at the light. One less car taking a parking spot. One less car putting wear and tear on the road. One less car polluting the air children breathe. Yet almost weekly the local newspaper contains a letter to the editor against bike lanes. Against the new multi-use trail connecting not one, not two, but three parks. Against bike riders taking the lane or riding two abreast or not riding in the bike lane (all legal, and all typically done for very specific safety-related purposes).

    After such good experiences riding my bike in Atlanta, the summer in the ‘burbs is wearing me down, but I try to find a way to focus on the positive. I donate my professional services to the local bike/walk advocacy group to create a public service campaign featuring about 20 citizens, commuters, and business owners thanking City Hall for voting for bikes in the hopes of encouraging them to continue on this path -- and to put a name and face on bike riders so maybe drivers will stop trying to kill us.

    There’s a woman who lost 100 pounds and jumped out of a plane but is petrified of riding her bike on our streets. There are two boys who want to ride for burgers, and a senior whose goal is to ride to the farmers market. There’s a college student who wants her coffee, and a bike commuter from another city who loves coming to work in our city because of our bike lanes. There’s the owner of a local business who doesn’t even ride a bike but she knows bike riders shop locally more, and more often, and wants to encourage that. And there’s even a city councilor who is also a dad and wants a more bike-friendly city for both those reasons. This is all very feel-good, and some of the photos are even used in a statewide campaign. I am proud to see them at the State Capitol building one day.

    No matter what I do, however, the truth remains. Even though this city could be one of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States and could reclaim the ease of living that used to define the ‘burbs (reimagined with the more urban elements up-and-coming generations as well as tomorrow’s seniors want), it will take the length of time of a mortgage until there is a consistent, truly usable bike network. In other words, the new baby just born in my neighborhood will be in college. And that’s if all the fighting doesn’t kill all those great master plans first. 

    I don’t have time to wait for that. If I don’t keep riding my bike now, I most likely won’t be able to ride it in the future. In fact, even if I ride it now, I am very well aware that I am always one knee injury or one cancer diagnosis or one distracted or angry driver away from possibly ever being able to ride again. My older daughter was very close friends with four other girls while growing up, and we moms were all friends as well. I have already buried two of them. I don’t take each new day for granted. I am on borrowed time, and I don’t want to waste it.

    I start dreading riding my bike close to home, but I realize one day while taking the lane that it hasn't been all "sad and scared" for me. I have somewhere along the way learned to take the lane in my life. I don't wait for someone else to decide to publish all the manuscripts I have stuffed under my bed. I publish them. I don't accept the wrong diagnosis of my younger daughter's increasingly debilitating medical problem that had caused a downward spiral in school attendance. I keep pushing until we find the culprit -- a turgid appendix that once removed solves the problem but after an extended recovery period  puts her on a new path as a homeschooler and early college student. 

    This means I'm around suburbia more this next year, however, and there are more lessons to learn. Getting off the main roads as much as possible saves my sanity, but that means climbing constant hills. This is a job solely for Attica, and she and I both rise to the occasion. The hills force me to anticipate, switch gears, and dig deep to find out what I'm truly made of. There's this one hill on my route that requires me to drop down to my lower handlebars, lower my head, grit my teeth, and count to 60 in order to crest it. Or, at least, it did. One day, I suddenly realize I am on top of the hill and I hadn't even dropped, gritted, and counted. It is simply no big deal anymore. And, you know what? Those things that used to be so hard in my life? I notice they are not so hard anymore either.

    Although I hardly ever see any other bike riders like me out here, I am acutely aware that there are kids in the backs of minivans who may be learning about bikes solely through watching me. I take my job seriously as an example on the roads of proper etiquette, rule-following and the sheer joy of bike riding. I also realize that my mere presence makes me an advocate for change, and that I have the power to make a difference in big and small ways, such as the fact that red lights at key intersections simply do not recognize me as a bike rider and will not change unless a car is with me, thereby preventing me from being able to cross legally and safely. A week of taking videos and photos, sending emails, and making requests for service on a site called SeeClickFix results in a traffic engineer meeting me at a corner, adjusting the sensors so they will pick up bike riders, and then proceeding to do it at two other ones where I know it is a problem. I share this small success on Facebook, and folks elsewhere start running lists of problem intersections in their cities and submitting them to those who could fix them, too. This is good.


    But I'm not happy here, and I know it. I trust the journey, and I sense perhaps that my lingering and pervasive ennui is a sign God wants me elsewhere. Once I put this thought out in the universe, the universe conspires in my favor. 

    Elsewhere comes in the form of a Help Wanted ad, and I apply.


    (more to come -- but I won't be publishing the rest of the chapters here on FoodShed Planet. I'm targeting May 2018 for publication of this complete book, which will also include a how-to section for you and your community.)


    Here is chapter 2.

    If interested, see my published books on Amazon, available in all global markets. Here is the USA link. I am currently pursuing an agent for Traveling at the Speed of Bike. If you are a literary agent interested in seeing the book proposal, please contact me here



    learning as I grow (by Pattie Baker)
  7. Chapter 2: Set Free
    I say no. 

    It’s a decision that makes sense as soon as I verbalize it. In fact, I can’t imagine myself saying anything else. It is in response to an email about a carpool being formed to take students from the suburb-city where I live to the arts magnet school many miles away, closer to the City of Atlanta, where my younger daughter has just been accepted. There is no school bus. I would only have to drive one day a week there and back. 

    But no. My answer is instinctively no. I don’t know why, but I sense that with my older daughter leaving for college and my younger one starting at this new school in 8th grade, it is time for me to be doing something different, too. As a freelance writer whose business, frankly, fell into the toilet at the tail end of the recession when every magazine for which I wrote folded and every client I had got laid off, I know I am at a crossroads. I write back to the very organized mom who has generously taken charge of the carpools and say that I may regret this decision but I am going to throw my bike and laptop in the back of the car, toss my camera over my shoulder, and head into the city every day to see what happens next.

    What happens next is I fall in love.

    I fall in love with artists painting murals and old couches left to rot, and buildings going up and others falling down, and strangers playing saxophones and riding streetcars and telling me their life stories. I fall in love with bike riding on the Atlanta Beltline and Freedom Parkway and downtown, I fall in love with street photography, and I fall back in love with myself. I fall hard.

    So it is a surprise that I could possibly fall even more in love. Yet at the end of that first semester, after putting the holiday decorations away up in the attic again, I see the road bike just laying up there, its tires flat, its spirit broken. And I ask myself, like every other year, if this year is finally the “someday” when I am going to take her down.

    And I say yes.

    She's a road bike and hints at being fast, although I'm an earth person, not an air person, and I don't like speed. Yet she's light and small and would fit in my car easier than the bike from Target (which I call Mulie) which I’ve been riding, and perhaps she'd be fun on the hills of Freedom Parkway and beyond. 

    Freedom Parkway. Perhaps there's a freedom now, my daughters older, the need to haul back-breaking schoolbooks done, my life bringing me into the city again each day instead of what was starting to feel like rotting at the bottom of a hill in suburbia.

    I wonder how much it would cost to fix her up after 20 years of total neglect. $100? $75?  I bring her to the shop where my friends rent bikes when they’ve been riding with me on the Atlanta BeltLine these past few months. I have no idea what it would take to put this 20-year-old shadow of my former self back on the road, but I trust them as I've overheard them advising many customers over the last few months.

    $35.

    That's what it takes. 

    For 20 years, I was $35 away from the woman I used to be, and the woman I am about to become.

    I name the bike Attica, after being imprisoned in the attic.  

    She, and I, are now set free.

    ----

    I take Attica out for her first ride at a wooded greenway not far from my home. I’m getting the feel of her, leaning forward on the drop handlebars, awkwardly changing gears, when I suddenly come upon a flood across the path. A man walking a dog waves to me from the other side, and then we both turn around. I loop around again, having decided to just repeat a few times the mile or two I had already done and then call it a day. 

    But this time when I return, I see a small group of people on the other side of the flood, and a man and a little girl in a pink jacket on this side. She stands up off her bike saddle and starts pedaling through the flood, as apparently all the others had just done, one by one. She is last, before her father whom I believe is videotaping her.

    Her legs start out strong, but then perhaps as the water gets deeper and the length gets longer, I see her wobble. There is still a great distance for her to go and stopping at any point is not an option. I find myself saying over and over again just under my breath, "Keep pedaling, keep pedaling." Her father puts the camera down and watches as well, perhaps biting his lip, too. 

    And then she does it. She makes it to the other side. Her father turns to me, grinning broadly, and says, "Your turn," not realizing I have no intention of crossing, that I had simply gotten caught up in the drama. I smile and say no, that I am heading back the other way. I watch him cross, great splashes of water exploding around his wheels, and then see the incredible joy on the other side as the whole group is finally reunited.

    I turn back. Disturbed. Attica is, as I told my family, "a lotta' horse." Too much horse for me, in fact. After all these years of riding Mulie -- a heavy, clunky all-purpose bike -- Attica feels lithe and light and limber and she flies like the wind with the smallest of suggestion from me. Plus, she has no "up brakes" and I feel like I am pitched practically upside down on the downhills. She has little cages on her pedals, and no kickstand. I can feel her lean muscles and how I'm sort of an afterthought to her, up there holding on for dear life. We are not yet a team. Plus, I don’t know what her old frame is even made of and how much she might rust in that water. In short, I don’t have the confidence of the little girl in the pink jacket that day.

    But I think of that little girl all night.

    The next day, I head to Freedom Parkway. Freedom Parkway has a multipurpose path alongside it that connects downtown Atlanta to neighborhoods to the east of it. It runs near both the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and The Carter Center. It also boasts a spur path down to the Atlanta BeltLine's Eastside Trail. When you get to the top of the spur path (after drinking water and trying not to have a heart attack from the climb), if you go right, it takes you for a bit and then winds you through a series of connected parks and then up to a main road where there are yet more linear parks. From there, you can patch together a route, and eventually you can end up at Stone Mountain, the largest mass of exposed granite in the world. I've gone right, not as far as Stone Mountain but as far as Decatur, a good bike ride away.  

    I have never gone left.

    My friend and I have plans to go left the next day. I don’t know my way around that area very well yet and he plans on showing me. But that’s tomorrow and today’s today, and today I am faced with a choice. I keep thinking of the girl with the pink jacket, so when I get to the top of the wavy path, up there with Attica on Freedom Parkway for the very first time, instead of going right, I go left.

    I am unsteady at first. Uncomfortable. Vulnerable. Sort of scared.  I take it slow. I backtrack a couple of times, not sure I should continue. But then, something happens. 

    Something happens. 

    I find my grip on Attica's reins lightening. I pop up in jump position when I feel I am pitching too far forward. I even think I grab a fistful of her mane at one point and possibly even shout, "Run, Attica, run!" as I whip along that road, free, free, free.  Finally free. Freedom Parkway is suddenly not just a name. It is a destination in life. And I have finally reached it.

    I had scheduled "surgery" for Attica at the bike shop that day, to get "up brakes." However, I swing in to the bike shop after my ride, my blood pounding, my adrenaline surging, my cheeks flushed, and the bike shop owner takes one look at me and says, "I think you should wait. Keep riding, and see."

    I am that little girl in the pink jacket. I am in the middle of the flood. And I have chosen to pedal forward. 

    ----

    And so, now every day, I have a decision to make. Mulie. Attica. Mulie. Attica. I do a good deal of my research via bike for my work (of which I have very little) and my art (of which I seem to have endless projects going on now), and each of my bikes has different strengths and weaknesses, so where I'm going and what my goals are for the day dictate which one I choose. In short, Mulie is the pack mule (hence the name). He has logged a lot of miles with two panniers attached that have carried everything from book bags to violins to harvests for a food pantry. Attica is the race horse. You'd think deciding between them would be easy. It's not. 

    The bikes have taken on distinct personalities (really, I should write a children's book about them) so that gets thrown into the mix as well. For instance, even though Attica would have been a better fit for a bike advocacy event named Georgia Rides to the Capitol (she's fast and great on hills, such as the one right before my state’s capitol), Mulie (who weighs a ton and plods along) likes crowds more, people smile more when they see him (polka dots!), and he often ends up in media photos, so Mulie it was. It's also easier for me to take photos while riding Mulie, so if I'm working on my street photography or shooting photos for a blog post, it's best on Mulie. Mulie can take on sidewalks and dirt paths as well, so if there's a chance of that, he's the choice. And if I'm pressed for time or the weather is spotty, I can get a terrific workout simply knocking out a quick four miles on Mulie, whereas I'd need at least 15 miles on Attica for comparable cardio. 

    I can go much farther, easier, on Attica, however, so flying down the hilly Freedom Parkway path or tearing it up on a day trip to Arabia Mountain miles away is going to make Attica (and me) giddy with excitement. I can also hoist Attica up on my shoulder easier if I need to run up or down stairs. 

    I also consider if I'm riding with someone, and whether I need slower or faster, shorter distance or farther, and what kind of exploring we're planning.

    The reality? I let them take turns. They seem happiest that way. And they seem happy for each other as well (they are very good friends).

    "Mom, you know they're not alive, right?" my daughter asks me when I inevitably whisper something I don't want the bike in the car at the moment to hear.  No, honey, I'm no longer sure they're not alive. They've become very good friends to me, too.
    ____

    I notice. I notice people. I notice change. But what I notice most of all is that what feels most right to me in my life right now is riding my bike, and so I keep doing it. I wonder if I’m wasting my time, if I should be doing something more productive. I revitalize a few abandoned gardens. I volunteer here and there. I get a few small new clients. I make bracelets out of old bike chains and think of selling them on Etsy. I pitch an article on this or that, and even get one published in a national magazine about the chicken coop on top of Manuel’s Tavern, a landmark in the city, but nothing ever seems to gain traction again. I pray, and every time I ask God for guidance, I get one and only one answer. 

    "Ride your bike, Pattie."

    The answer comes loud and clear. It comes without explanation. It comes over and over again. It is the only answer I get. It is the only direction, the only step forward, the only burning truth that permeates my every day. I tell my husband early on that for some reason I need to do this and that it has to be a daily priority. I know somehow my very life depends on it. 

    Committing to this message I’m hearing means that other things do not get done. It means that I’m not always available to go other places. It means my social circle increasingly involves people who already ride bikes or are willing to do so. It means quitting some things and joining some others. It means taking buses and trains and cars to get somewhere safe to ride, finding ways to ride bikes when traveling (hello, bikeshare, in five different cities), and making myself ride bikes around where I live despite driver aggression and poor access-for-all. It means being vulnerable, taking risks, and learning new things. It means trusting, truly trusting, the journey.

    I still don't know where my bikes are taking me. But I like where I've gone so far, and so I decide to just keep going -- because God keeps telling me one and only one thing right now.

    "Just ride the God-damn bike."

    God doesn't really say it in those words. But it's implied. 

    And so I do.

    ____

    Time passes. Things happen. These are other stories for other nights, over wine or sunsets or bonfires, perhaps when we are old. When I look back on these days, they will surely be the most creatively fruitful days of my life. I mount guerilla art exhibits in found spaces. I shoot thousands of photos. I combine mixed media elements in forms I’ve never imagined. And mostly, I immerse myself in the daily rhythm of lives I have not known up close and personal before, and this inspires me to think about my small purpose in this big world a bit more. 

    I go home without two new nickels to rub together each night and feel richer than I have felt in years. I thank God every morning for the beauty and glory and honor of this new day, and I ask for his guidance to do the job for which I am intended. In other words, tell me where you need me, buddy. I’m yours. And he answers me each day with someone crossing my path that makes me stop dead cold in my tracks and just revel in the miracle of the moment.  That homeless veteran with the hole in his stomach (which he showed me), whom I met after getting off the Atlanta Streetcar? That urban farmer whose farm is now gone because they are building condos? That man feeding the pigeons where there’s now a parking lot? Their photos hang in my home. I think of them every single day. They motivate me to keep riding, to keep finding out why I’m riding.

    ___

    There is a building on the corner of Hilliard and Auburn, right on the Atlanta Streetcar route, that used to have a boarded-up window on which someone had painted We Love ATL. During the time I am riding my bike seemingly-aimlessly around Atlanta, that building underwent renovations and now I think it's about to become a bar or some other place catering to hipsters, like so many other buildings in this area.

    There is a park named Hurt. That must have been the name of someone, but when I ride by on the Atlanta Streetcar and see the sign of the stop right in front of the park -- Hurt Park -- in juxtaposition with the people without homes who sleep there, it hits me. These people are hurt. And there is a park for them. But this week I see an article that says Georgia State University is taking over stewardship of this public space and turning it into a grassy-sloped venue for student events. The news report says Georgia State is "cleaning up" the park. Note to Georgia State: people who are homeless are not junk.

    There is a corner of Woodruff Park just down the road from both these places, right on the streetcar route as well, where mostly African American men played chess. It has been gated and closed for several months now. The men, many homeless, sit on the little bit of ledge that's left on a low wall that's filled with a continually-increasing number of planters. There are almost daily updates on social media saying join us for yoga! And music! And after-work wind-downs! This, I know, is called gentrification. 

    There is a woman named Sherri who lives in a mostly-concrete park near all of this. It's really a corner, I guess. I give her half my kale wrap from the Sweet Auburn Curb Market many times. I ask her if she has any family and she says no. I ask her why she doesn’t go to a shelter and she says it is better for her for now on the street. There comes a day in the not-too-distant future when I no longer see Sherri. I don’t know what happened to her.

    I have my camera with me constantly and I shoot photos of people I pass. I spend hours each day after riding editing the photos. I wonder about these people in the photos, and I start making up stories. I go to a coffee shop and eat cake and write a story almost every day. I end up writing 76 of them, all flash-fiction (under 1,000 words), each inspired by a photo, with overlapping storylines about lives colliding on a city’s new path forward. It adds up to a book titled Stranger Things Happen. Five of the stories even get selected for publication elsewhere. 

    It adds up. I add up.

    But I know somehow in my heart of hearts that I am just getting started. 



    Here is chapter 1.
    If interested, see my published books on Amazon, available in all global markets. Here is the USA link. I am currently pursuing an agent for Traveling at the Speed of Bike. If you are a literary agent interested in seeing the book proposal, including three sample chapters, please contact me here





    learning as I grow (by Pattie Baker)
  8. Chapter 1: A Time Machine
    (Note: all names have been changed, except Sir Charles. Disclaimer: memory is not always entirely clear; forgive me any errors.)

    They say you can’t go home again, but you can. For me, it just takes a blue gravel road and a time machine called a bike, and I’m there -- sixteen miles from Manhattan at 15 Fairfield Avenue in a two-square-mile village on Long Island named Mineola. It’s the third house on the right, gray for awhile and then green after that summer dad painted it (not to be confused with the time he re-roofed it or when he finished the basement). Fifteen hundred square feet, barn shaped, and built in 1926, it has a blue gravel driveway with a strip of grass down the middle, at least until later when it gets asphalted. The sound of my small bike tires against that gravel lives on indelibly in my memory, tickled awake by any bike tire on any blue gravel anywhere, even here, in the middle of suburban-sprawled metro Atlanta, Georgia, where, as luck or God or kismet or mistake would have it, I fell upon a secret, hidden blue-gravel road this morning on a bike I've named Magic -- and from where I instantly traveled 900 miles home again. 

    I am five. My friend and I clasp four-wheeled metal roller skates over our sneakers and skate around the perfectly rectangular block on the sidewalk until we are tired of doing that day after day and decide to help each other learn to ride two-wheeled bikes instead. He holds the back of mine while I try to ride and I fall into Mrs. Costello’s hedges maybe once, maybe a hundred times. Memory isn’t clear on this detail. Somehow we learn, but the bikes don’t bring us further adventures together. They send us away from each other out into the world. We’re never really friends again. I ride past him one day years later, as a teen no-handed on a ten-speed, and he tells me he never learned how to do that. His words just kind of hang between us, an unspoken recognition that the time for us as friends or something more has passed.

    I am eight. My class goes on a field trip to a place named Safety Town in a nearby county park. It is sponsored by the police department and is a miniature model of a city. We students get to be motor vehicle drivers (in little electric cars), bike riders, and pedestrians. We learn safety tips for each mode of transportation. I love everything about this field trip, but especially being a bike rider because you are treated as a motor vehicle driver yet can magically become a pedestrian and take advantage of those benefits by simply getting off your bike, such as at an intersection. When I eventually undergo training to become a League of American Bicyclists’ Cycling Instructor at 53 years old, I think of this field trip the entire time. When I teach bike rodeos, I am eight years old again at Safety Town.


    I am nine. I walk or ride my bike to and from school every day. This requires me to go under the Long Island Railroad train tracks down a steep set of stairs and through a spooky, smelly tunnel that we simply call The Tunnel. When I have my bike with me, I have to hoist it up onto my shoulder to go down and then again to go up. I am usually with people -- a friend or two, or my brother and his friends -- and we like to stand under The Tunnel until the train comes overhead and we scream at the top of our lungs. This is somehow fun. It is not so fun years later when I realize there are reasons to be scared down there, especially when I am passing through it alone and I have to run for my life.

    I am ten. I am fully free-range by now, as many kids who grow up in the 70s are. I come and go at will, as long as I’m home for dinner. My parents don’t know many of the stories I’m about to tell you, although they know this one. My friend Lisa and I are on one bike, and Carrie and Tina are on another. We are racing each other down the hill on Raff Avenue. We are helmet-less, of course, because no one wears helmets. It is autumn after school and the late afternoon light is fading fast. Lisa and I have matching brightly-colored plaid jackets -- I think they are called CPO jackets. This whole jacket thing is an odd detail, but that’s how memory works. I had begged my mother for that jacket from E.J. Korvettes, the discount department store walking distance from our home where we get just about everything. We don’t have much extra money and the jacket costs more than some of the others available. I learn early not to ask for much, including help (a trait of mine with which I continue to wrestle), but I really want that jacket. To this day, I am grateful my mother got it for me.

    So, back to the bikes. Carrie and Tina aren’t really friends. Tina is Lisa’s neighbor, and she’s a year older than us so not part of our school social circle. It is sort of odd that they are together on the bike.

    We all speed down the hill when suddenly Carrie and Tina wipe out. Tina smacks her head on the ground, hard. Carrie, Lisa and I gather around her body heaped in the middle of the road as green gunk starts gushing out of her mouth and nose. A neighbor runs out and then goes back inside to call 911 (this is way before cell phones). The ambulance comes and Tina is rushed to the hospital. I go home and there are phone calls and then I am sitting down to dinner -- 5:30 PM sharp every night no matter what for meat, two sides, and a salad followed by Jello with canned cling peaches congealed into it (which I love). I wonder all night if Tina is dead or alive. She lives. There is a girl in the Earn-a-Bike class I teach right now who insists she doesn’t need to wear a helmet. She is ten years old. I want to tell her about Tina, but I don’t think she will listen to me. Maybe I’ll tell her anyway.

    I never speak to Carrie or Tina or Lisa about that incident. Just recently I get to wondering if Lisa feels guilty for not riding with Tina. I wonder if Carrie feels guilty because she was on that bike with Tina. I’m friends with Carrie on social media now. Maybe I’ll ask her. 

    I am twelve. My friend Katie and I ride our bikes to new bank openings (which seem to happen every weekend) to get free pens, to E.J. Korvettes to sneak into the water-filled pools in the outdoor department, and to the bowling alley on Jericho Turnpike (where one time we got a written warning from a police officer to take home to our parents because we were riding two on a bike on an extremely busy road). (Note: we often ride three on a bike -- one person on the seat, one person on the handlebars with her feet hooked around the bike, and the third person standing and pedaling. If it is summer, we are often barefoot, too, because flip flops always break and wooden Dr. Scholls sandals fall off.) We fix tire flats in the basement of my house by putting water in the slop sink (where we used to wash our rescue mutt Gin before we just started hosing her off in the yard) and roll the quickly-filled tube through it to see what part of the tube has the hole (it bubbles). We collect and return glass Coca Cola bottles to get money for replacement patches and tubes at good ole’ E.J. Korvettes. I hear years later that E.J. Korvettes went out of business.

    Katie’s mom has a friend who is a butler for a rich family in Southhampton and I am invited to spend the weekend out there with them as the famous, wealthy owners are not in residence right now. I have never been beyond my modest middle class neighborhood except, really, to go to other middle class neighborhoods or to more urban areas like Astoria and Flushing and Newark where friends and family live. 

    The butler, who goes by the name Sir Charles, drives us out in a limousine and the sprawling mansion astounds me. There is an indoor pool and a theater and an industrial kitchen where we ask if we can have all the soup labels because there is a soup label contest at school -- whoever brings in the most wins a prize. Katie and I make little labels with the names of the soups to tape onto the bare aluminum cans as we remove the actual labels. Chicken with stars. Chicken with rice. Split pea. Tomato. 

    Katie’s mother leaves us there alone with Sir Charles, for reasons I still to this day don’t know. Sir Charles sets me up in one wing of the house -- the yellow wing -- and he sets Katie up in the opposite side of the house in the blue wing. I ask why we can’t stay together and don’t really get an answer, but I oddly enjoy having this big suite to myself. It's clearly a guest room and there is a beautiful desk with custom-printed stationery. I write letters. 

    Katie and I go bike riding down the road lined with swaying golden beach grasses, passing mansion after mansion, and I have an unsettling feeling about going back to the house. Daylight fading, we return, the doberman watch dogs barking at us threateningly from behind a fence. 

    Sir Charles takes us up in the attic, which is filled with all kinds of treasures, and says we can choose something to bring home. I choose a letter opener that looks like a sword and has a very sharp tip. I am sleeping with it under my pillow when Katie comes running down the hall screaming for me to let her in and lock the door, that Sir Charles is coming for her. I frantically let her in and quickly lock the door. We hide in the closet in the pretty yellow room the rest of the night, the letter opener clutched in my hands. 

    I sneak into the kitchen and call my mother in the morning and she is aghast to hear that Katie’s mom is not with us. She and my father drive the two hours to get us. My mother still shakes a bit today when talking about this. Katie and I never talk about this again. In fact, we stop being friends after this. I don’t know what actually happened that night. I don’t know what became of Katie in life, but I have missed her ever since. She was one of the best friends I ever had. Trying to find women online if they changed their names when getting married is very, very hard, especially when their maiden names are very common, as Katie’s was. If you know where Katie is, please let me know.

    The next school year, seventh grade, Katie starts hanging out with a group of kids who are smoking and drinking in the park. David, my boyfriend of two years, wants us to start hanging out with them, too. I don’t want to. My mother is an alcoholic who stopped drinking when I was eight years old (and is now 45 years sober, so props to her), after years of drunken luncheons and Saturday night suburban parties in our home, and I am uncomfortable with this scene. He asks to meet me in the park by the library right down the street from his house on the other side of our town from where I live. I ride my bike there. He breaks up with me under the very tree we used to climb together, but we're both sad about the circumstances. We have our first kiss before I get back on my bike and ride home. Within a week, he is dating one of the girls from the park. 

    I am almost 13. It is the summer of Son of Sam, the serial killer eventually convicted of eight killings in New York City. I hear that he is targeting teenage girls with shoulder-length brown hair and this fits the description of my friend Marilyn. She and I are riding bikes back to my house on a steamy, humid summer night after a Police Boys Club girls-league softball game, our mitts dangling from our handlebars (I play third base), and I have the first panic attack of my life because I’m so worried we won’t make it there alive.

    I am 15. I go to a Catholic high school in another town (to which I take a bus and hate it after a lifetime of walking and riding my bike to school), and my best friends from school live pretty far away. It is hard to see them as I don’t like to ask for help from my parents to drive me there all the time. Plus, my father’s car almost blew up on the Meadowbrook Parkway (a passenger in a passing car hung out the window and told us our car was on fire, and my dad slowed down as much as he could and told me to jump, which I did), and this freaks me out enough that I don’t want to ride in that car ever again. I start riding my bike to visit my friends and it takes me an hour along very busy roads named Old Country Road and Merrick Avenue. The ride home is the worst because it’s after a full day at the beach or wherever and I’m tired. I remember how quickly we’d get there on the parkway and I decide in a moment of sheer brilliance to take this route home on my bike. I am zipping along in the shoulder and feeling very proud of myself. I don’t know that this is illegal until a police officer pulls me over and tells me. The words, "What the hell are you doing?" may have been said. He instructs me to get off at the next exit, and I tell him I will. Neither of us realize that the next exit is the Southern State Parkway. I may be the only fifteen year old girl who has ridden her bike on two New York highways without being part of an organized road-race.

    I am 16. I get a job at McDonald’s. My brother works at the location closest to our house (in fact, he becomes a manager there), so I somehow end up at the one three miles away. I offer to “close” on Friday and Saturday nights so I can avoid the alcohol-heavy hanging-out that my high school friends are starting to do. My father drops me off there with my bike in the back of the car (not the one that almost blew up; an old red Dodge Dart that will one day become what I will call the Pat Mobile). I ride it home at midnight, in the snow, with a leftover apple pie strapped to my back rack as a surprise for my father. I discover I love doing this and do it often. These quiet, moonlit, nose-hair-freezing rides are some of the happiest memories of my life. 

    I am about to turn 17. I take Drivers Ed at my local high school across town. I ride my bike there every day. I become friends again with people I knew from elementary school, especially a girl named Sandy with whom I go disco-rollerskating several nights a week. She persuades me to get a job at the supermarket where she works, named Waldbaum’s. I love this job. I learn that garbanzo beans and chickpeas are the same thing. I learn about all kinds of fruits and vegetables I have never seen or eaten before, like turnip greens. I go on years later, 900 miles away (here, in fact) to help start the largest volunteer-led community garden in metro Atlanta. I particularly love growing turnip greens. 

    I see my old boyfriend David a few years later when my friend Sandy’s parents go away and she throws a party. Sandy and I ride our bikes to the local liquor store to buy booze, even though I’m not crazy about the idea. The shop clerk shows no hesitation selling us what we request. We wrap the brown paper bags around our bike handles when we leave. David shows up at the party and we end up in the backyard catching up under the stars. I’m still not a big drinker and I always prefer to be outside. We kiss again. It is very sweet. 

    Sandy gets very drunk that night. Her parents, of course, find out about the party. She is grounded for the rest of the summer, as is her younger sister who was also part of the party. Her younger sister’s best friend and I become friends and start hanging out together. We stay friends for years until her NYC firefighter husband and she lose so many people they know in the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and we somehow fall out of touch. I tell myself for years I should contact her, but I don’t. 

    I am nineteen. I bring my bike -- a blue Peugeot 10 speed -- with me when I go to college in upstate New York my sophomore year, after a year at a college close to home where a counselor slaps a brochure in my hand and tells me this is where I need to go instead. During my very first ride on country roads that are foreign to me in every possible way, one of my brake levers falls off and gets tangled in my front wheel spokes. I fly over the front of the bike and lie in a mound of blood on the side of the road like a dead squirrel. A gorgeous guy named Scott pulls over in his car and saves me. He gets me back to campus and I tell him I’m fine because you know by now how I don’t like help, right? Stupid, stupid, stupid. I never get his last name and he never gets mine. I look for him until the day I graduate but I never ever see him again. I also never ride a bike again in Geneseo. I eventually adopt a cat.

    I am twenty two. I come back home to Mineola after graduation and commute via the Long Island Railroad to my new job in New York City, and then the next job after the sexual harassment, and then the next job after that at the global headquarters of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, where my father has worked for almost 35 years at this point, retirement looming, and where he used to take me into work one day a year to visit the art department, which I loved. I am happy to work at the same company as him. My parents had gotten divorced while I was in college and it's nice to spend extra time together at lunch once a week or so. Plus, he leaves me notes on my desk.

    I walk the mile to the station at 6:30 in the morning and get home after dark. I work with the art department all day long. I ride the bike on weekends on an hour loop I create that takes me past the duck pond in Roslyn and up to Bar Beach, which is dirty and ugly but I love it because I went there on Mondays as a kid because the public pool was closed that day. I even get to sail for the first time in my life right there in the Long Island Sound during the final class of a budget-priced sailing course that my friend Gina and I take in the basement of St. Bartholemew’s Church on 50th Street and Park Avenue where the instructor brings in a fan and blows it at us to teach us how to tack, and then we spend a week tying knots. 

    I meet a cute guy in the systems department at work who tells me he cycles on weekends. He describes what he does and it sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard of before in my life -- the size of the group with which he rides, the number of miles they ride, the clothing they wear, the cost of their bikes and equipment. This is about the most foreign thing I’ve heard yet. What is cycling? This is not what I do on my bike. 

    I eventually move to Brooklyn and then to Manhattan. I buy a bike with my very first federal tax return ever. It is a five-speed German-made bike that I don’t particularly like because it is brown and very heavy but the sales guy tells me it’s what I need for city riding. I curse him every time I lug that bike up the five flights to my walk-up apartment on East 24th Street. I don’t know whatever happened to that 10-speed Peugeot or why I didn't just bring that with me to the city.

    I spend Sundays riding the too-heavy brown bike up to Central Park, down to Greenwich Village, and over the Brooklyn Bridge with The New York Times in the basket, which is a newspaper my journalism professor in college had thrust into my hands and told me I had to start reading. This is long before bike lanes in New York City and it is challenging, even on a Sunday. 

    I am twenty five. I run into someone I know from college who lives on 30th Street over a Lebanese restaurant and it quickly becomes my habit to go by her apartment when I’m out riding and ring my little bell. She gets a kick out of it and eventually introduces me to her coworker, who becomes my fiancé just six weeks later. 

    My future husband and I and the cat from college move to Avenue C and 16th Street and watch the fireworks over the East River that July 4, while unbeknownst to us at the very same time someone is slashing my bike tires in the basement of our rent-controlled apartment. 

    Over pasta and a napkin on which we scribble possibilities at a place named Rocky’s on Spring Street, where a candle drips colored wax down a wine bottle that we still have in the glass-fronted cabinet in our dining room, we decide to move to Atlanta. I get a job at Turner Broadcasting in the national ad sales department as the CNN promotions manager, and he gets a job at which he works full-time while going to law school at night. We leave the heavy brown German bike when we move me and the cat to Atlanta two months before our wedding. 

    Once he joins me in Atlanta after our honeymoon, he gives me a 21-speed Schwinn as a wedding gift. I try to ride that bike but almost get killed over and over again by aggressive drivers and the lack of shoulders on the roads. I notice that the only people who seem to be riding bikes are so-called cyclists like that cute guy where I worked in New York City. I lament about my inability to ride a bike here and am told for the first time in my life that I am a novice bike rider. After more than 25 years of riding in the most densely populated part of the country, this is news to me.

    I am twenty eight. I get rear-ended on Atlanta's I-85 highway after getting stuck in an eight-car pile-up. I am never able to drive again on a highway without constantly looking in my rear-view mirror. in about twenty years,I stop driving on highways altogether. I no longer ride my bike at all because it is too dangerous. I start roller-blading around my little neighborhood. Four times around is a mile, twice each weekend. I am traveling a lot for my job at Turner. I try to stay at hotels with pools. I swim at 6 AM Eastern, Central, and Pacific time. This is the only exercise I get. I gain weight.

    I am thirty one. My husband and I welcome our first of two daughters to our family. I go back to my job, now at the global headquarters of UPS on a suburban campus where I get zero exercise now. I quit after pitching a four-day work week (and corresponding reduction in salary) and go freelance as a communications writer. We move to what is supposedly a family-friendly community yet I see no bike riders, only cyclists. My beautiful road bike goes into the attic and doesn’t come out again for almost 20 years. One of my clients is the Atlanta Regional Commission, which is launching a program named Commute Options specifically for employers to encourage their employees to not drive during the Centennial Olympic Games which are coming to Atlanta in a year. I write about vanpooling and telecommuting and bike riding and more. The roads end up virtually car-free during those two momentous weeks. I don’t claim credit for this, but hey, I had a little hand in it. My fifteen-month old marches around the house chanting “Go USA!”

    During the next stage of our suburban life, I buy a $79 hybrid bike from Target, I ride to and from school with my kids on the sidewalks while carrying their backpacks in panniers, I become a local activist for safer streets for all, and I keep glancing at the pretty red bike in the attic every year when I take down the next box of hand-me-down clothes or the holiday decorations. 

    I am six weeks shy of turning 40. I read that it takes six weeks to learn how to ride a unicycle, so I trot into a bike shop and buy one with an early gift check my mother gives me. I teach myself to ride, first leaning against the wall in the hallway in my house, then holding onto the fence at the community center’s basketball court, and finally riding around a track by the high school. High school students stand on the roof and cheer me one miraculous morning when I finally make it all the way around for the first time. 

    I am fifty. I make a decision that changes my life. 



    If interested, see my published books on Amazon, available in all global markets. Here is the USA link. I am currently pursuing an agent for Traveling at the Speed of Bike. If you are a literary agent interested in seeing the book proposal, including three sample chapters, please contact me here
    learning as I grow (by Pattie Baker)
  9. Food for My Daughters at Lemonade Days!
    Years ago, a tornado hit the metro-Atlanta suburb-city where I live. It destroyed a significant number of trees. A local effort emerged to replant the trees by raising money at a festival named Lemonade Days where the community "turned lemons into lemonade." The festival endures years after year. In fact, here's a previous FoodShed Planet post about it.
    There will be a Local Authors table at the festival this year, and my book, Food for My Daughters, will be for sale there (as well as on Amazon in all global markets). I've reread the book and am newly committed to the timeless stories, tips, and recipes it includes. We are in a time of "lemons" in our country. Beneath the bitterness, however, there is always potential. There is always good. And I, for one, intend to make lemonade. 

    When tragedy struck, I did the only thing I could to maintain some semblance of control in an uncertain world. I planted seeds and somehow figured out how to grow food, knowledge, and community. You get timeless stories, actionable tips, and a Baker’s Dozen worth of recipes from that journey in my book, Food for My Daughters. It may shorten your learning curve or inspire you a bit (or so the kind reviews on Amazon suggest) if you’re thinking about digging in as well.
    Almost six years have now passed since this book was published on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. My daughters are almost all grown up now. An increasingly-complicated world, however, makes the quest for resiliency — and peace of mind — ever more relevant. Maybe the state of the world or your physical and mental health has you hungry for simple steps forward, too. Maybe it’s not even all about growing food for you, but feeding your soul with some food-for-thought. If so, you’ve come to the right place.
    Thank you for your support. As always, 10% of all proceeds from the sale of Food for My Daughters is donated to help provide fresh food to those in need. 
    Learning as I grow,

    learning as I grow (by Pattie Baker)
  10. Take Your Bike on the Bus, Train, and Streetcar
    PicMonkey Collage.jpg

    Sometimes you need to get from here to there, and what you would consider a safe route on bike simply doesn't exist. Or it's farther than you have time or energy to traverse. Or it's pouring and you have your laptop or phone and don't want it to get ruined (hint: carry a 2-gallon Ziploc bag with you in the future -- thanks to my friend, Chip, for saving the day for me that time). Or it's dark and there are no streetlights and you don't have $150 to spend on lights with enough "lumens" to illuminate the way so you can avoid potholes and be undeniably visible to speeding, distracted, or impaired motor vehicle drivers. Or you have a child with you. Or, like me, you simply love mass transportation and love using it to get to more interesting and well-designed places to ride. 

     Well, good news. You're in luck. In Atlanta, you can take your bike on the bus, train, and streetcar at all times. If you live elsewhere, check to see if your public buses have racks for bikes (note: there is usually room for two bikes) and if there are any hours of restrictions (typically during rush hour) for taking your bike on trains/streetcars. Here are super-short (seriously, seconds) Bike Ride in a Blink videos for what it looks like when you do it:


    Click here to see my Bike Ride in a Blink complete series-to-date. And tap in for a new issue of Pedal Tips each weekend.

    If interested, see my books on Amazon. 
    learning as I grow (by Pattie Baker)

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